On the first play from scrimmage, Hoban star running back Lamar Sperling snuck out of the backfield for a wide open catch and took the ball down inside the 20.
A few plays later he punched in the ball for the first touchdown of the game.
It would not be his last, and even when the Explorers didn’t lose track of Sperling, they struggled to stop the University at Buffalo commit.
“It’s always good to have a running back of his caliber and the things he can do,” Hoban coach Tim Tyrell said. “He’ll be the first to tell you it takes everybody up front, (but) it's a blessing to have and you never want him to go, but he’s gonna have a bright future at Buffalo.”
Sperling rushed 36 times for 288 yards and five touchdowns, averaging over eight yards per carry.
“It just came down to being able to tackle (Sperling),” Hudson coach Jeff Gough said. “Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t. I think that’s what you’ve seen all season, everybody in the state has had trouble containing him.”
The Hoban offense picked up yardage at an even higher clip of 8.3 yards-per-play to outgain Hudson 396 to 186 yards.
Tyrell said the key to his team's playoff success is a focus on building strength in the offseason before worrying about learning plays or assignments.
“I think they put in the work back in January,” Tyrell said. “We just live in the weight room for this time of year. It’s a tribute to the kids and the strength staff. We’re kind of ugly in the beginning, but we get the right connections and figure that stuff out while still trying to win.”
Hudson’s defense did come up big early in the game when Jack Jenkins picked off Hoban quarterback JacQai Long, but the Explorers were unable to turn the turnover into any points.
Later in the game, Hoban would come up with an interception of its own as well as a fumble recovery to take control of the turnover battle.
The Knights defense was dominant, holding the Explorers scoreless until the 3:32 mark of the fourth quarter.
“When our defense gets downhill like that, I mean they were in the backfield before anything happened,” Tyrell said.
Hoban’s defensive front seven was both bigger and faster than the Hudson front, with Hoban linebackers and defensive linemen finding their way into the backfield all night.
“Boy, our linebackers played well,” Tyrell said. “Caleb Jones, Eli Lee and Ricky Williams, that first half they were sticking the hell out of that quarterback and that running back. That’s a good team, but we were just able to play a little bit more physical tonight.”
Tyrell also acknowledged the defensive play of senior Jayvian Crable, who led the Knights to the state championship last year as quarterback before switching to a utility role on both sides of the ball this year.
“When you let (Crable) tee off and you let him go and be the athlete that he is, he had a hell of a game, that was a highlight show by him today, ” Tyrell said. “That’s a team player right there, you know that’s your quarterback who took you to the state championship last year, and he had probably five or six sacks and tackles for loss (and) he’s blocking the hell out of people.”
Hudson quarterback Jagger Pallay faced that pressure to complete 7-of-14 pass attempts for 90 yards and an interception. He rushed for 21 yards, a total that was hampered significantly by numerous sacks.
The leading receiver for Pallay was Jenkins, who had a game high three receptions for 57 yards.
Ian Ludewig scored the lone touchdown of the night for Hudson in the fourth quarter, finishing the night with 75 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
This was Hudson’s first loss of the season, and Gough said there was a lot for his players to be proud of at the end of the season.
“I’m so incredibly proud of our seniors, to go 10-0 is unbelievable in this day and age,” Gough said. “To win the Suburban League, I told them nobody can ever take that away from you. And to advance in the playoffs, play four extra games while everybody else is sitting at home, that’s a badge of honor.”
Long added a touchdown run for the Knights.
Hoban now advances to the Final Four to face Massillon Washington (12-1) at the University of Akron's InfoCision Stadium for the right to move on to the state championship. This will be the fourth postseason meeting between the Knights and Tigers in the last five seasons, with Hoban holding a 2-1 edge.
But, Tyrell said that even such a huge game is just about getting better for his squad.
“Every round of the playoffs we’ve become a little bit more focused,” he said. “(Our) coaches have just been echoing the fact that; we’re clocking in, it’s time to go to work.”